The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Mosaic Chamber Players complete their cycle of Beethoven sonatas for strings with impressive beauty and sensitivity

October 10, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

Here is a special posting, a review written by frequent guest critic and writer for this blog, John W. Barker. Barker (below) is an emeritus professor of Medieval history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He also is a well-known classical music critic who writes for Isthmus and the American Record Guide, and who hosts an early music show once a month on Sunday morning on WORT-FM 89.9 FM. For years, he served on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison. Barker also took the performance photos.

By John W. Barker

In another distressingly overcrowded weekend, hard choices had to be made about which event to attend. I picked the performance by the Mosaic Chamber Players last Saturday night at the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Landmark Auditorium of the First Unitarian Society of Madison.

For the past four years, this group has pursued a “complete” survey of Beethoven’s sonatas for strings and piano. Since he composed 10 for violin and piano plus five for cello and piano, it was easy to organize them into five concerts, each with two violin sonatas and one for cello. In addition, it was possible in many programs to draw on all three periods of Beethoven’s output.

This year’s concert was thus the fifth and the last in the series, climaxing a really impressive achievement for artistic director and guiding spirit Jess Salek and his colleagues.

As pianist in all three of the works presented, Salek (below) provided more than accompaniment, since the role of the piano was generally put on terms of equal partnership, sometimes even of relative superiority. He played bravely, justly showing palpable pride in the total achievement.

Laura Burns (below), who also plays with the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the MSO’s Rhapsodie String Quartet, was the violinist in the early Sonata No. 2 in A major, Op. 12, No. 2.

This happens to be the first of these Beethoven sonatas that I came to know and love in my youth, via an old Jascha Heifetz recording, so it had particular reverberations for me. To its wit and sprightliness Burns brought an added warmth of sound and spirit.

The Cello Sonata No. 5 in D, Op. 102, No. 2, was the last one Beethoven composed for this medium, and one of two that dates from the composer’s late period. A great deal of very serious thinking went into it, with a slow movement particularly notable for its spiritual depth. Cellist Kyle Price (below) delivered it with genuine feeling and with great strength of tone.

Also Beethoven’s last work for its medium, the Violin Sonata No. 10 in G, Op. 96, comes from late in the composer’s so-called middle period. It is a work of almost kaleidoscopic variety, with frequent changes of mood and character.

Its core is another slow movement of amazingly personal eloquence and breath-taking beauty. And the theme-and-variations movement finale seems to have everything (almost) in it but the kitchen sink. (You can hear Wes Luke and Jess Salek performing another theme-and-variations movement from a different Beethoven violin sonata in the cycle, Op. 30, No. 1, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

It was clear that violinist Wes Luke (below), who is also the first violinist of the Ancora String Quartet, was having a whale of a good time playing it, relishing almost every note.

Luke’s printed program notes were particularly excellent, and included notice that the group’s spring concert will juxtapose piano trios of Beethoven and Brahms.

The Mosaic Chamber Players do not receive a great deal of publicity, but their concerts offer some of the most lovely and thought-provoking chamber music repertoire to be found, even in a town so full of wonderful music-making as ours.

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Classical music: The “Grace Presents” music series names UW-Madison graduate student Kelly Hiser at its new program coordinator.

July 12, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger

Madison certainly has its share of free, high quality classical musical events.

But among those programs not associated with larger institutions, such as the University of Wisconsin-Madison or the Madison Symphony Orchestra, “Grace Presents” has proven especially reliable and successful.

I think back with fondness to the concerts I attended last season where I heard Brahms violin sonatas (below) with violinist Laura Burns and pianist Jess Salek; various songs by Faure, Hahn and Verdi, including Brahms’ “Liebeslieder Waltzes” (in a YouTube video at bottom); and a solo piano recital by Yana Groves of Debussy, Rachmaninov and Schubert.

Laura Burns Jess Salek Brahms Grace Epis

“Grace Presents,” now in its third season of concerts held in Grace Episcopal Church (below top) on the Capitol Square in downtown Madison, has announced that Kelly Hiser (below bottom) became its new Program Coordinator as of July 1.

grace episcopal church ext

Kelly Hiser

Hiser is a doctoral candidate in musicology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, with a special interest in the history of the spacey-sounding theremin, one of the first forms of electronic instruments, famously used in the slow movement of Aram Khachaturian’s popular Piano Concerto. She is currently serving as Project Assistant to Professor Susan Cook, the recently named Director of the School of Music.

“Grace Presents” offers free concerts by performers in a wide variety of musical styles, including classical, jazz, world and folk, in an outstanding acoustical venue that is resonant for the ears and for the eyes also features beautiful stained glass windows and lovely sculpted wood.

MBM Grace stained glass window

MBM Grace altar

Bruce Croushore, the founder and chair of Grace Presents, noted that the music series is fortunate to have Hiser in charge of lining up interesting talent for future concerts.

“Kelly brings to Grace Presents an impressive skill set, an extensive knowledge of many musical genres and a wide range of connections to the Madison music scene,” Croushore noted. “She will keep Grace Presents in the minds and hearts of lovers of diverse musical styles, performed in Grace Church’s beautiful and acoustically superb space,” he continued.

The monthly hour-long concerts are typically held at noon on Saturdays to encourage shoppers, workers, and downtown residents and visitors to enjoy fine music in a peaceful setting.

Grace Presents sign

The Fall lineup will be announced in August, and The Ear as been told that Hiser will be setting up a website of its own for “Grace Presents.”

In the meantime, here is a link to the Grace Episcopal Church’s website where you can often find news about “Grace Presents” artists and programs:

http://www.graceec.org


Classical music: “Grace Presents” announces and begins its spring series of FREE classical music concerts at noon this Saturday with Sound Ensemble Wisconsin.

January 24, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger

Madison is lucky indeed to have quite a few organizations and presenters that seek to present live classical music in non-traditional venues, and often do so for free. Groups like New MUSE (New Music Everywhere), Classical Revolution and Sound Health (an outreach group to hospitals run out of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music) come immediately to mind.

Grace Episcopal Church (below is a photo of its exterior with the state Capitol in the background to the right) belongs in that group that seeks to bring great music to the people. It has its own special series, which has just announced the spring schedule that will start on this coming Saturday at noon.

grace episcopal church ext

All concerts for “Grace Presents” on SATURDAYS AT NOON — especially nice when the Dane County Farmers Market starts up in April — and are FREE and open to the public. All concerts are held at Grace Episcopal Church (below is the attractive and acoustically fine interior) the on Capitol Square, at 116 West Washington Avenue in Madison.

grace episcopal church inter

Here is the spring 2013 “Grace Presents” Recital Series:

Jan. 26, 2013: Sound Ensemble Wisconsin — Works to be performed include Charles Ives Violin/Piano Sonata No. 3, Morton Gould‘s Rag-Blues-Rag for solo piano, and 6 Gershwin songs for voice and piano. Mary Theodore, violin (below); Vincent Fuh, piano; Rachel Eve Holmes, soprano.

Mary Theodore violin

Feb. 2, 2013: Laura Burns, violin (below, second from left in in a photo by Greg Anderson of the Madison Symphony Orchestra‘s Rhapsodie String Quartet) and Jess Salek, piano, perform Johannes Brahms’ three violin sonatas (more details concerning programming will be sent at a later date)

Rhapsodie Quartet MSO Greg Anderson

 March 2, 2013: Rachel Eve Holmes, soprano, Kathy Otterson, mezzo-soprano, Jesse Hoffmeister, tenor and John Bohman, baritone perform an Art Song Recital and the Brahms “Liebeslieder” Waltzes with pianists Kirstin Ihde and Michael Roemer.

rachel holmes

April 13, 2013: Black Marigold, a new Madison-based, female woodwind quintet, performs various repertoire (TBA, to be announced)

Black Marigold 2

May 18, 2013: Yana Groves, Ukrainian pianist, performs Bach’s French Suite #3 in B minor BWV 814; Schubert’s Piano Sonata in A minor D. 845, and Debussy’s “Estampes.” (Below is a YouTube video of her rehearsing Mozart’s Piano Concerto in A Major, K. 488, for her senior recital.)


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